Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Military

by Dr. Karen Ruskin on August 8, 2011

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often discussed when it comes to the military. When military personnel return home one of the most common problems diagnosed is: PTSD. As a marriage and family therapist I am interested in raising awareness so we can help get rid of the stigma associated with the behavioral health issues of veterans by educating the public, which also will hopefully help soldiers and their families to seek the help when they need it.

It’s particularly hard for Veterans to seek out help when they need it because seeking help feels inconsistent with viewing oneself as strong. PTSD is not an illness of weakness, it is a common reactive response to trauma! It is how the brain often reacts. It’s hard for their families to seek out help because they are trying to protect (their spouse, father, child) from confronting the pain, feeling the pain, and somehow it seems disloyal to get help if the Veteran says he does not want it. Therefore many Veterans and their families carry this burden on their shoulders without receiving the help they so desperately need. Confronting the pain is an important part of the healing and recovery process.

You will find below key bullet points from me to you:

#1 most common diagnosis for those who have returned home from War:  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

How it affects them:  As an individual- symptoms may include:

a) Recall:

Recurrent distressing recollections and/or dreams of the event

Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations)

b) Interaction with self and others:

Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma

Diminished interest or participation in significant activities

Diminished interest in participation in activities one used to find enjoyable

Disconnection from family/Feeling detachment from others

Restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)

Sense of a foreshortened future

c) Mood:

Persistent symptoms of (2 or more):

Difficulty falling or staying asleep

Irritability or outbursts of anger

Difficulty concentrating

Hypervigilance

Exaggerated startle response

As often described by the Veteran and the Veteran’s family:

“It takes their life apart”

“He’s not the same person”

A powerful quote I will never forget, which accurately summarizes how many feel:  “It’s as though my husband was placed in a garbage disposal where the switch was left on, taken out, and dumped back home for the family to figure out how to put him back together again.”

Note: I recall a science fiction movie many years ago where pods took over the bodies of people and the spouses would say one day their spouse was their spouse and the next day it was not their spouse. Someone else was inhabiting their spouse’s body. This is often the way in which the family feels about and reports their observation of their loved one upon returning home.

Often they have dual diagnosis left not diagnosed and therefore not treated:

(e.g., alcohol/drug abuse)

Why-

  1. Often alcohol and substance use, illegal and/or prescription is either seen as just a part of the Veterans coping method, a self medication technique. It “makes sense”, to the Veteran, the family, and often the clinician as well. Yet, if left untreated it is not uncommon for overdose.
  2. Other times the family fears the Veteran will get mad when their family “tells” on them.
  3. Many Veterans had alcohol/drug use/abuse prior to going to war. Upon coming home their method of coping with their experience exacerbates a pre-existing problem that was never diagnosed.

How veterans behavioral health affects the entire family relationship dynamic and the family members personalities. Specifically, the children are affected.

(in my mental health and wellness practice I typically see 3 main themes)

1. Attachment disorder issues (children are affected in how they attach themselves to the vet and to others in the now and their style of attachment in future significant relationships)

2. Unhealthy coping methods/skills (learned behavior and to escape pain)

3. Walk on egg shells due to not knowing how the vet will react which leads to:

a) ready to be volatile (vigilant type) or does not have a voice (wall flower type)

b) daily choices surrounding the vets mood, therefore hard to really enjoy life- depressed

For children that live in this environment, this has the potential to become a part of who they become in their interaction with others

What type of help Dr. Karen recommends – 4 parts each to be included

  1. Med evaluation and med management with a Psychiatrist
  2. Individual counseling with a therapist (e.g., psychologist, mental health counselor, social worker, marriage and family therapist)
  3. Support Group with other Vets
  4. Family Counseling with a family therapist

I hope you find this information helpful. Please do pass it along to anyone who may be suffering.

Warmly,

Dr. Karen

drkarenruskin@msn.com

 

 

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